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12 Years a Slave: Why Non-Blacks Should Stop Saying the N-Word

October 28, 201712 min read

Celine Christina Hartanto

12 Years a Slave: Why Non-Blacks should Stop Saying the N-Word

Some people here in Indonesia are so entitled to the point that they think saying the N-word is hilarious, whether it’s ni*ga or nig*er. In reality, the N-word is a racial slur that was forced upon African-Americans during slavery. Because of the belittling connotation, it should not be mentioned by people outside the African-American (or African in general) descent.

These are the lists of swear words that you can say besides the N-word:

    fuck, fucktard, fucker, motherfucker
    son of a motherfucking bitch
    shit, dipshit
    asshole. if you’re British: arsehole
    bitches, bitch, bitchass motherfucker
    dumbass, dumbshit

I see some of my friends using the N-word as a joke, and I cringe. It’s understandable, though, as they might not comprehend the origin of the slur itself. Mostly, they get the word from watching movies or listening to rap music. After watching the movie and reading the novel of 12 Years a Slave, you might realize why saying the N-word is prohibited if you aren’t black/African-American.12 Years of Slave is graphic in terms of violence and sexual abuse, but it’s worth it to indulge for the sake of history.


Slavery in the U.S. began in 1619 when the first African slaves were brought to help with the production of tobacco, cotton and so on in Southern plantations across the country. 12 Years a Slave tells the narrative of an African-American slave named Solomon Northup.

The unique thing about Solomon is that he used to be a free black man living in the state of New York. He worked diligently as a musician alongside his beloved wife. In 1841, he was kidnapped by two white men in the state of Washington. Solomon was forced to be sold into slavery to a Southern cotton plantation under the pseudonym of Platt and eventually was rescued in 1853 — 12 years later.The unique thing about Solomon a.k.a. Platt was that he was a free human being, like you and I, with family, talents, aspirations and hope. Because of slavery, his brilliancy got stripped down to the core, humanity berated into the worst humiliation, worth degraded to that of a farm animal. Like the other slaves, Solomon merely became an object — a white man’s possession.

It all started when Solomon was lured into a high-paying musical job by Hamilton and Brown, two white men pretending to be “circus entertainers.” Solomon was drugged up, left feeling utterly sick and sedated. When he woke up the next day, Solomon found himself being chained like an animal. Hundreds of lashes stung his back when Solomon attempted to tell the guard that he was initially a free man from New York. From then on, Solomon learned the hard way that he should never ever tell anyone about his origin if he wanted to come out alive. Through the streets of Washington, Solomon and the other slaves were escorted to the Southern plantation. All of the slaves were hand-cuffed, ironically walking in silence through Washington, the Capital of United States, a government established on the ideology of freedom and liberty.

Solomon’s first master, William Ford, was a man full of integrity and kindness. As a pastor, William was a worthy minister of God, a Christian man who was wrongly influenced and blinded to the system of slavery. He even required his slaves to praise the Lord every Sundays, thanking for the blessing upon them. There was also a slave owner named Peter Tanner who prided himself on the strict religious values he brought upon the slaves, often suffering them to death. Being a deacon at church, Peter would punish any slaves working on Sabbath day. As opposed to Peter, William Ford never treated his slaves badly. Instead, he offered break times and free delicious food. This case was rather tricky, because as an individual, William Ford condoned the brutality of slave system. On the other hand, he was also a great master who once prevented the hanging of Solomon by John M. Tibeats. Still, Solomon emphasized that anyone who supported slavery had to be condemned, no matter how kind he was. Any institution that tolerated such inhumanity was definitely cruel and barbarous. Solomon inquired God on why his kind would be the one to undergo such torture — hanged on trees, writhed beneath the merciless lash, bitten by guard dogs, died without any attention, and buried without a coffin.

Once Solomon finally escaped the cruel Tibeats, he was bought by his third master, Edwin Epps. Epps was a massive, rowdy man who degraded black people as if they were animals. No kindness personality was found in his characteristics, only narrow-mindedness and extreme greed.  The cruelty of Epps is perfectly described by the following sentence:


(Translation: Epps did not give a damn about the condition of his slaves as he only cares about profit)

The living condition of Epps’ slaves was poor; slaves had to use sticks of wood as pillows, and a coarse blanket as the bedding. Imagine how uncomfortable it was! Slaves’ cabins were constructed of logs without floor or even a window. Slaves had to pick cotton with the minimum weight of two hundred pounds. If they picked less than that, the slaves would be punished with a penalty of lashes. A slave named Patsey was an utterly remarkable cotton-picker — she could pick rapidly over five hundred pounds of cotton a day, which made her Epps’ most favorable slave. Besides that, Patsey was also favorable because Epps abused her as a sex object. Sometimes, especially when he was drunk, Epps would start an affair with Patsey, making his wife furious with jealousy. In his narrative, Solomon tried to humanize the jealous Mrs. Epps by saying that she was not naturally cruel. Solomon wrote, “Mrs. Epps was beautiful, well-educated, accomplished, and usually good-humored. She was kind to all of us but Patsey — she was an elegant and fascinating woman”. Personally, I think Mrs. Epps being “unnaturally cruel” was bullshit; if she was truly kind, she would have known that the affair related with Patsey was created by his own horny husband. Mrs. Epps’ jealousy led to extreme punishment for Patsey, given by Epps himself (the one who wanted to fuck Patsey from the start). Patsey would often tremble with fear when she remembered the flogging that she had to endure. At one point, Patsey received the most excruciating flogging/lashing to the point that she lost her bubbly, youthful, full-of-spirit personality. The severe punishment was done to her just because Patsey went away to get a soap (a soap!), since Mrs. Epps would not give her one due to jealousy.

In the end, Solomon was rescued by a carpenter from Canada named Samuel Bass. A lonely liberal man who saw little value of his own life, Bass decided to bring Solomon to his fully-deserved liberty. Bass sent a letter to New York, and some of Solomon’s acquaintances then rescued him from the Southern plantation. Nonetheless, Bass’ act of justice and righteousness would be rewarded with death by slave-owners in Southern plantations. That was how delusional people were, in terms of humanity, during the time of slavery. The U.S. Supreme Court denied black people to be the legal citizens of the United States, making Solomon unable to sue in federal court. Solomon’s kidnappers were free of any criminal charges — in short, they were not punished. The injustice!

Samuel Bass, the Canadian carpenter who helped Solomon to freedom (played by the famous Brad Pitt)This slave narrative by Solomon Northup is a non-fiction without exaggeration. During that time, hundreds of free African-American citizens such as Solomon himself, were kidnapped and sold into slavery. Discrimination, prejudiced, and racism — little children pick all of those negative notions from their parents. Epps’ son, an intelligent 12-year-old, treated the black slaves just like how his father did — ruthless. This little boy could not understand that in the eye of God, there was no distinction of color. Instead, he saw a black man simply as an animal, someone absolutely below him.

“He (Solomon) was a man — every inch of him. Yet because of the color of Solomon’s skin, every inch of his manhood was vulnerable to being falsified, stolen, emasculated (deprived from its actual identity), and denied, and there was virtually nothing he could do about it”

To slave-owners, African-Americans were dehumanized, highly valued object. To lose that object would also mean losing a huge amount of money; therefore, Edwin Epps kept swearing and denouncing the law that freed Solomon from his concrete grip of slavery. All Epps wanted was to kill Samuel Bass, the mediator who helped sending Solomon’s letter to freedom.

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